Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran

Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First Century Iran<br> By Geneive Abdo and Jonathan Lyons. | Henry Holt. $25.

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.

In this timely (if loosely organized) report on Iran’s theocratic experiment, Geneive Abdo and her husband, Jonathan Lyons, avoid any notion of a “clash of civilizations” between Islam and the West. Instead, they describe an Iran in the throes of a battle within Islam itself: Leading Shiite clerics, many of whom helped bring the Ayatollah Khomeini to power, have turned their backs on the fundamentalist government and are leading a struggle for democratic reforms.

Abdo and Lyons — who, in 1998, became the first American journalists allowed to live in the country since the revolution — dedicate much of their book to exposing the timidity of Iran’s president, Mohammad Khatami. They show his government abandoning students, journalists, and others who seek new freedoms, leaving them at the mercy of state-sponsored thugs and sham courts. The critique is devastating, but readers should bear in mind that the Khatami administration chased the authors out of Iran two years ago.

Their heroes, by contrast, are those clerics, in particular the imprisoned Ayatollah Montazeri, willing to sacrifice personal safety to bring about a more modern and democratic Islamic government. The authors are highly sympathetic to the vision of an Islamic Republic that balances popular sovereignty with religious authority — but fail to address the problems that even a moderate Islamist government would pose for freedom of thought. Considering that Iran’s theocrats have likely outdone even the U.S.-backed Shah in their oppression, it’s surprising that neither Abdo and Lyons nor most Iranians seem to favor the separation of church and state.


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend